Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Archive for the ‘US Politics’ Category

Ending Cruel and Unusual Punishment in US Prisons

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

One of the most nightmarish things that happen in the US is prison rape. Think about it: people who are are reliant on the government for their protection are routinely raped – in one prison in Texas, 1 in 6 every year.

That should not happen in the most backward of third world countries (excuse me, LDCs.) It is appalling that it happens all the time in the US.

These criminals were sentenced to time in prison, not to be raped. Pretty clearly a violation of the Bill of Rights.

We are coming up on the deadline for implementing changes under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. AG Holder’s obviously got a lot on his plate right now, but this is a real chance to end a fundamental injustice.

Hat tip: Cliff Schecter

Ross Douthat: Not That Dumb

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

The NYT’s conservative columnist continues to impress me with being, well, sane. I know the bar is a bit low, but hey, you work with what you’ve got.

Today’s piece talks about Obama as “an ideologue and a pragmatist.”  This is, I think, exactly right. Obama ran on an inspirational platform of change – but if you examined it closely (and, as a guy working for Hillary at the time, I certainly did) the actual policies were very sensible and moderate ones.

One quibble: Douthat says that the President has “governed as a conventional liberal who believes in the existing system, knows how to work it and accepts the limitations it imposes on him.” I’m certain that Obama does not “believe in” the routinization of the supermajority requirements in the Senate. Imagine a world in which Obama was negotiating a compromise between Ben Nelson and Bernie Sanders, rather than Ben Nelson and, um, Ben Nelson.

Royally Cool Science

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

L0012087 A double sheet showing various ophthalmology instrument

Fantastic gift from the Royal Society of England, the oldest group of scientists in the world: they have started putting up their back archives of seminal research papers on a special historical timeline.

Here, for example, is an account of using willow to cure fevers from the charming days when their journal was called Philosophical Transactions. Later we figured out it was in fact salicylic acid in the bark that did the trick. And here’s the first two they’ve released, a grisly pair of experiments on puppies. Different kind of bark, I guess.

A lot of gems there, and I’m sure many more to come.

Just browsing a few highlights of the extraordinary discoveries of the last centuries has to make you pause and wonder at what the scientific method has done for the human race. (Reminder: scientific method = idea, test to prove, have another person repeat test. New idea that builds on the first, lather, rinse, repeat. Next thing you know: 3D TV!)

Of all the things that scary me about modern political discourse in America, one of the most frightening is the idea that science has become a partisan thing, as if one gets to choose one’s facts. I guess when it’s considered a bummer that the president is smart, this is where you end up.

U.S. AID Chief Chosen

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

From the department of it’s-about-freakin’-time: U.S. AID Chief Chosen

The 36-year old *cough* nominee from the  Agriculture *cough* department will be tasked with heading up what is supposed to be a co-equal tentacle of the US foreign policy establishment.

My friends inside AID have had a tough time; it’s hard to have the crew doing their job when your ship doesn’t have a captain.

This speaks partly to the incredible difficulties with the vetting process; ridiculously talented people are not taking jobs with the Administration – not because the pay is low or the work hard, but because the vetting process is too damn hard.

Of course, the vetting process has gotten so onerous because there is so much political theater to be made out of the high-wire act of Senate advice-and-consent positions. Given the depressing and destructive obstructionism of Republicans, Obama has to be careful – but it is another example of how the machinery of American government is being forced to a halt.

Freelancing Foreign Policy

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

There’s only one branch of the US government that is responsible for foreign policy. Fuzzy as the constitution can be on some things, this one is pretty cut and dried.

Now, Republicans, the Party of Patriotism ™ might be expected to follow the maxim of partisanship ending at the waters’ edge.

You would regrettably be wrong.

Senator DeMint went traipsing off to Honduras today to be a cheerleader the leaders of the coup who overthrew President Zelaya. His moves are in direct opposition to US policy which has staunchly

Indeed, those who would call the military’s violent ouster of a democratically elected leader a ‘coup’ are, according to DeMint, “ill informed.”

Good to know.

I had some sympathy for the revolutionaries; the former president was publicly mulling constitutional changes to pave the way for another term for himself. Hitler’s rise to power provides the ultimate example of the argument for stopping a leader undermining a democratic system while staying mainly within the constitutional lines; you can make a case for saving a democracy by overriding it in such cases.

With junta leaders attempting to squash free speech rights, though, that seems to make such a premise a bit doubtful.

Worse, in my mind, was Mike Huckabee’s grandstanding in Israel. In an attempt to bolster his standing with evengelicals he goes over to Jerusalem and makes provocative statements opposing a two-state solution, undermining what has been official US policy for ages, and undercutting Obama as he is working to bring peace to that troubled land.

HRC is a Tough Lady.

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

On top of the punishing work schedule, Hillary is apparently in constant pain from her shattered elbow. Joints are NOT good things to break. For a 61 year old this has gotta be rough.

The Times had a nice piece on Secretary Clinton’s role in the Obama Administration, and her relatively low profile. I love the fact that Henry Kissinger is a) still alive, and b) remains the éminence grise of the foreign policy world.

While the Obama team seems to be working well together, the only thing that smacks a bit of a snub to HRC from my perspective is the fact that there was a major presidential health care press conference that drowned out the coverage of Hillary’s simultaneous major policy address to the Council on Foreign Relations.

(hat tip: Madame Secretary)

American Exceptionalism from an Exceptional President

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

On his victory lap through europe trip to the G20 Obama seemed to impress, well, everyone. While he didn’t seem to get much for Afghanistan (c’mon guys – 3K troops?) the G20 came up with more than nothing. At least the great powers are taking steps to cooperate more than they did in the runup to the Great Depression.

The bit that impressed me most, though, was Obama’s response to questions at a public town hall.

Er, stop. Yes, that’s right. An American president went abroad, had a press conference, and took questions. Yep, it happened.

Anyway, one question was posed on American Exceptionalism. Dangerous ground, since it’s easy enough to sound messianic or just plain jingoistic about it.

And yet, on the fly, Obama provided this answer:

Obama on American Exceptionalism

If I was a trained speechwriter I couldn’t have put it better. We do have a lot to be proud of in this country, dammit, and the last eight years are not enough to have destroyed the extraordinary accomplishments and potential of the US.

This Obama guy might have a future in public speaking. I’m gonna have to keep an eye on him.

23%-40% of Homeless are Veterans

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

National Alliance to End Homelessness

The US Department of Veterans estimates that as many as 200,000 homeless people are veterans, and that over the course of the year, as many as 500,000 veterans experience homelessness. … Recent media accounts highlight a small but growing trend of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan showing up in shelters.

Happy Veterans’ day!

Politics Quote of the Day

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Kevin Drum made me snort my coffee through my nose with the best quote I’ve seen this month. He’s talking about the anti-Bogeyman-of-the-moment current in Republican foreign policymaking (Mahmoud is the anti-Christ!) but it applies to right-wing politics in general.

When people who believe stuff like that are dressed in rags and yelling at passersby from street corners, we call them crackpots. When they dress in suits and, say, edit the Weekly Standard, we call them foreign policy analysts. Weird, huh?

Habeas Corpus Not Quite Dead?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Of all the unsettling bits of creeping authoritarianism that have occurred in this administration, one of the most alarming would have to be the undermining of the ancient right of Habeas Corpus, known as the Great Writ.

Basically it means that if you are locked up by the government, you have a right to go before a judge to make sure there’s a law that says you can be imprisoned. Doesn’t matter whether you’re guilty or innocent; habeas simply ensures that there is some justification for your trip to the Stateville Pen.

Through an appalling little shell game, Bush and his administration have created a situation where people – even U.S. citizens – can be declared “enemy combatants” and shipped off to Gitmo. That charming vacation destination is not technically a part of the United States thanks to a little treaty with Cuba from back in 1913 or so. We’ve got the lease, but Cuba retains “ultimate sovereignty,” whatever that means.

And so the ruling regime has argued that US courts have no right to intervene there – even to hear habeas appeals as to whether there is a right to lock the prisoners up in the first place. Strangely, the Cuban courts haven’t stepped in to offer their judgments.

Fortunately, that may be coming to an end. The spineless Arlen Specter – who could have prevented this mess in the first place – is teaming up with Pat Leahy on the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the “Habeas Corpus Restoration Act.”

It’ll be – hopefully – voted out of Judiciary this Thursday. Get in on the fun and do your part; Leahy has a web site where you can learn more and get involved.

Big Sticks are Nice, But Don’t Forget that Soft Talking Is Required, Too.

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

Ed. note: I have been finishing my thesis and out of town for some time. Hopefully we’re back on the posting front now.

Ed. note part deux: This was an op-ed for Prof. Drezner’s Statecraft class. I am lazy, so I have crossposted it here.

Fifteen captured British navy personnel are recovered from Iran, unharmed. Without a single shot fired or helicopter crashed in the desert, the prisoners were released in a fortnight, not 444 days. Iran’s reckless President Ahmadinejad came off looking even more of an erratic and violent bumbler and managed to further alienate the rest of the world. The temperature on the pressure cooker that is the Persian Gulf dropped a few degrees, and all breathed a sigh of relief that yet another Middle Eastern conflict is not yet imminent.

Well, almost all. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton – the Don Imus of the Diplomatic Corps – wrote a scathing piece in the April 9th Financial Times lambasting Britain for its “weakness” and describing the resolution of the crisis as a “win-win” for Iran. The problem appears to be that Bolton is deeply offended by the fact that discussions between Iran and Britain took place at all; that these lead to the release of the prisoners is irrelevant. He does not offer a superior alternative method to achieve the liberation of these unfortunate hostages, though one imagines it would involve things going “boom”. This attitude – that diplomats should (possibly) be seen but (certainly) not heard – is sadly not the sole perspective of bombastic cashiered neocons. A childish unwillingness to talk to those defined as “the bad guys” is at the heart of the posture of President Bush and his administration towards the world.


Rin Tin Tin v. Al Gore

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

That corpulent embodiment of corruption Denny Hastert was lecturing Al Gore about Econ 101 in the ex-Veep’s first trip to Capitol Hill since he certified Bush’s election.

Rin Tin TinAl Gore(Incidentally, that particular element is what gives the whole 2000 debacle the ultimate element of pathos to me. It would make a great climax for a play.)

After bloviating for a while, Hastert said “Now that you’re a movie star…”

Gore shot back “Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. I’m just a guy with a slide show.”

I liked that.

Anyway, check out Grist’s summary of Gore’s recommendation for climate change legislation. They’re very bold, even radical. They don’t have a snowball’s shot in 22nd century Florida of enactment. They’re awesome.

This will shift the conversation significantly. Fantastic to see some way-out-there positions entering the political debate; it’ll shift all the other choices significantly to the left.

Spotted thru my beloved Kevin Drum.

Overheard in a Bar

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

“What the *^%@ are these pansy-ass Democrats doing dicking around with a non-binding resolution on Iraq? What the *^%@ is a non-binding resolution anyway? We elected them to get the hell out of that war!”

With a 30%-approval President and substantial majorities in favor of withdrawal from Iraq, seems like there might be room for some actual leadership on this one.

The Benefits of Bias

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

As Alberto Gonzales is smoking his last cigarette and adjusting his blindfold in front of the wall, the camera fades out to a flashback on how he got there.


Government: Trust Me. TJ: No.

Monday, March 12th, 2007

“It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights… Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power… Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go… In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Thomas Jefferson: Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798.

Dead Presidents

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

To lighten the atmosphere, we hereby present a joke. Comes courtesy of Scott Horton’s great No Comment daily news summary. It is best to read the Presidents’ lines out loud in a basso ghost voice.

One night, George W. Bush was tossing restlessly in his White House bed. He awakened to see George Washington standing beside him.

Bush asked him, “George, what’s the best thing I can do to help the country?”

“Set an honest and honorable example, just as I did,” Washington advised, and then faded away…

The next night, Bush was astir again, and saw the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moving through the darkened bedroom.

Bush called out, “Tom, please! What is the best thing I can do to help the country?”

“Respect the Constitution, as I did,” Jefferson advised, and dimmed from sight…

The third night sleep still did not come for Bush. He awakened to see the ghost of FDR hovering over his bed.

Bush whispered, “Franklin, what is the best thing I can do to help the country?”

“Help the less fortunate, just as I did,” FDR replied and faded into the mist…

Bush wasn’t sleeping well the fourth night when he saw another figure moving in the shadows. It was the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.

Bush pleaded, “Abe, what is the best thing I can do right now to help the country?”

Lincoln replied, “Go see a play.”

What would Founding Father have wanted?

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

A thought from one of the lead framers of the Constitution as the Ship of State hurtles towards a collision in the Gulf of Hormuz:

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy.

War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.

The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

James Madison, writing under the pseudonym Helvidius.

Congress better start moving faster if it wants to turn this boat around.

This is from an extraordinary project from the University of Chicago called the Founder’s Constitution. Check it out; for those interested in “original intent” this is a great collection of the things the framers actually said.

If you haven’t checked it out, we the people might want to start here.

To be Franken, it’s Not a Good Idea

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

So Al Franken’s running for US senate. Not too surprising, as he’s been very publicly considering this for years. He’s smart, he’s liberal, he’s got good name recognition.

I think it’s a terrible idea.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Franken. Except he’s a pundit. That means he stakes out extreme rhetorical positions. And he’s a comic pundit. A comic pundit with a weight problem. A rotund comic pundit who hasn’t spent much time in MN for years.

So we have a chubby extremist carpetbagging comic pundit running for the Senate.

Color me crazy, but I don’t think he’s going to fly.

He’s going to be impossible to take seriously and easy to demonize. Jesse Ventura was able to turn his notoriety to good use, but that was an eon ago – and look how it turned out. (For those who weren’t paying attention: not well.)

Senators are supposed to be, er, Senatorial. Norm Coleman, for his many flaws and missing-in-action spine, does have that.

‘Course, if Franken can make us all laugh, maybe we’ll follow him anywhere.

Executive Signing Statements are Enforced by Unicorns

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Bush seems to have the idea that he can unilaterally change legislation by appending “signing statements” to bills that are passed by the branches of the government constitutionally empowered to, er, legislate.

There is a reason why we have a division of power. If the Founding Dads really wanted things like signing statements, they would have not have had the inconvenience of a Congress that did anything significant. Or a judiciary that could intervene in the Executive’s affairs. They might have come up with a system kinda like…

King George III’s Britain. Right. We were trying to get away from that.

Here’s the point, folks. Follow along closely.

Executive Signing Statements Are Fictional and Unconstitutional.

There is zero Constitutional justification for them. If the executive branch enforces anything in a signing statement that contravenes or does not fulfill the obligations of legislation then they are behaving illegally. It doesn’t matter if Bush’s desires are expressed in an interpretive dance or a signing statement. They are equally pointless.

Courts will never find any validity in these cockamamie imbicillities. If they do, head for the exits, since we’ll be well on our way to dictatorship.

How do you spell chutzpah again?

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

A piece on Bush’s first sweet-talking of Pelosi, et al. from CNN: Bush, Democrats spar on spending, taxes

There’s some real gems in there, but the best is the canard that Dems are the fiscal problem. Now that those tax-and-spend Democrats are back in power, it’s gonna be non-stop deficit-busting orgy of new government outlays.

Except that with a one-party lock on government, disastrous tax cuts, and a incontinent congress that can’t control its spending, govt spending increased 25 percent* under Bush’s watch. Well done.

And he’s got a plan to balance the budget by 2012. Nice. Especially since it was, you know, balanced when he got his hands on it.

At the same time, Democrats are supposed to avoid the urge to “pass bills that are simply political statements.” Right. How about flag burning, gay bashing, or steroids in baseball? Or poor Terry Schaivo? I’d suggest that instead Democrats pass bills that are useful – like a massive increase in the minimum wage. Which is, of course, the “political statement” he’s attacking.

“Time to set aside politics”? Nice try, George. After 6 years of outrageous scorched-earth Rovian tactics, it’s gonna take a bit of your own medicine. The difference is this actually will be good for the country.

Another great idea: “In Wednesday’s article, he reiterated his position that U.S. forces must stay in Iraq until the attacks by insurgents end.” Since there are people there who will attack Americans because they’re there, that means we’ll be leaving – let me check the calendar – never.

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